Georgette Heyer & the Mystery of the Dictionary

I have a mystery.

It began in 2017 with my discovery at a Scottish bookseller's of a rebound volume of Pierce Egan's 1823 revision of Francis Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published at the tail end of the Regency period. The book itself was filled with handwritten notes and additions made by an unknown owner, and they were clearly the work of an author or a Regency period language enthusiast.

The rebinding dated to about 1925, giving a possible time period for the notes. But when I saw the picture the bookseller posted, I thought I recognized the handwriting. I'd seen it in a biography of Georgette Heyer, whose delightful, slang-filled Regency romances invented a new genre.

I purchased the book, and reading it, I found even stronger connections - the added words and phrases corresponded to singular ones I'd found in Heyer's novels. At this time, she would have been in her twenties, and had already had several books published, though she had yet to publish Regency Buck, her first Regency. The time period dovetailed beautifully. For anyone writing a book that featured Regency slang, Grose would be an essential tool, while the meticulous additions in this dictionary aligned with all I knew of Heyer's careful research.

I've spent a lot of time comparing Heyer's handwriting and the labels on her research materials to what I saw in the dictionary. Much of it wasn't a perfect match.

But I felt that a lot of it clearly was.

Heyer loved the work of Pierce Egan. His popular book, Life in London, filled with his sporty, Runyonesque slang, was one of Georgette Heyer's treasured possessions. But its bookend, Egan's version of the Grose slang dictionary, wasn't mentioned, though it was and is an indispensable reference for slang of the Georgian and Regency period. When Heyer died, no version of Grose in any edition was in the inventory of her library. The more I researched, the more often the same question kept rattling in my brain.

Had I discovered Georgette Heyer's earliest personal slang dictionary with her own private additions? The answer is a resounding... maybe.

Read on and see...

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